Joseph Albert “Joe” Morello (July 17, 1928 – March 12, 2011) was a jazz drummer best known for his 12½-year stint with The Dave Brubeck Quartet. He was frequently noted for playing in the unusual time signa-tures employed by that group in such pieces as Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk. Popular for its work on college campuses during the 1950s, Brubeck’s group reached new heights with Morello. In June 1959, Morello participated in a recording session with the quartet — completed by the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and the bassist Eugene Wright — that yielded Kathy’s Waltz and Three to Get Ready, both of which intermingled 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures. Morello suf-fered from partial vision from birth, and devoted himself to indoor ac-tivities.
At six years old, he began studying the violin. Three years later, he was a featured soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, playing Men-delssohn’s Violin Concerto, and again three years later.
At the age of 15, Morello met the violinist Jascha Heifetz and decided that he would never be able to equal Heifetz’s “sound”. Therefore, he switched to drumming, first studying with a show drummer named Joe Sefcik and then George Lawrence Stone, author of the noted drum text-book Stick Control for the Snare Drummer. Stone was so impressed with Morello’s ideas that he incorporated them into his next book, Ac-cents & Rebounds, which is dedicated to Morello. Later, Morello stud-ied with Radio City Music Hall percussionist Billy Gladstone.
After moving to New York City, Morello worked with numerous nota-ble jazz musicians including Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow, Stan Kenton, Phil Woods, Sal Salvador, Marian McPartland, Jay McShann, Art Pep-per, and Howard McGhee.
After a period of playing in McPartland’s trio, Morello declined invita-tions to join both Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey’s bands, favour-ing a temporary two-month tour with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1955. Morello remained with Brubeck for well over a decade, only departing in 1968. Morello later became an in-demand clinician, teacher and band-leader whose former students include Danny Gottlieb, Max Weinberg, Rich Galichon, Phish drummer Jon Fishman, Gary Feldman, Patrick Wante, Tony Woo, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons drummer Gerry Polci, Jerry Granelli, and Glenn Johnson.
Page 24 Dave Brubeck Remembers Joe Morello
Morello appeared in many Brubeck performances and contributed to over 60 albums with Brubeck. On Take Five, he plays an imaginative drum solo maintaining the 5/4 time signature throughout. Another ex-ample of soloing in odd time signatures can be heard on Unsquare Dance, in which he solos using only sticks without drums in 7/4 time. At the end of the track, he can be heard laughing about the “trick” end-ing. He also features on Blue Rondo à la Turk, Strange Meadow Lark, Pick-Up Sticks and Castilian Drums.
During his career, Morello appeared on over 120 albums, 60 of which were with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He authored several drum books, including Master Studies, published by Modern Drummer Publications, and also made instructional videos. Morello was the recipient of many awards, including Playboy magazine’s best drummer award for seven years in a row, and Down Beat magazine’s best drummer award five years in a row. He was elected to the Modern Drummer magazine Hall of Fame in 1988, the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1993, and was the recipient of Hudson Music’s first TIP (Teacher Integration Pro-gram) Lifetime Achievement award in June, 2010.
Morello died in Irvington, New Jersey on March 12, 2011, aged 82, and is buried at Saint Michael Cemetery.
Dave Brubeck’s long-time drummer, who died last March.